Ragù alla bolognese, My Way

If you ask Italian friends or family how they prepare their ragù alla bolognese, everyone will give a slightly different list of ingredients, the cooking stages, and, of course, everyone will claim his or her ragù is the authentic one. When one looks at different recipes from “prestigious” sources, carrot, celery, onion, meat, wine and a long simmering process seem to be the only recurrent elements. As for the rest… Some use white wine, some swear by red only. Some fry in butter, some don’t. Some add milk, others skip it… I quickly realised it’s safer to add “my way” when talking about this ragù and thus avoid quarrels with other passionate cooks.

Apart from the basic obligatory ingredients, there are however certain rules to follow. The first ones are the already mentioned long simmering process and respect of the cooking stages. If you try making it in 30 minutes, putting everything at the same time, you will obtain an edible sauce, but never an excellent one (I have made this experiment, but only once). Moreover, since this dish comes from Emilia Romagna (Bologna is its capital) and since spaghetti is not part of the regional traditions, this type of pasta is the big faux-pas. For me, regardless the traditional approach, this ragù’s texture simply doesn’t fit spaghetti. It tastes much better with shorter pasta or in lasagna.

The recipe I have been making for several years is based on the one from “Ma Little Italy” by Laura Zavan. The dried mushrooms it calls for enrich the flavours, while cloves are the hardly perceptible, magic touch I particularly adore. Thanks to them the dish gains in complexity and elegance. I must confess I have modified the original recipe, or rather impoverished it in what comes to the meat used. I only use ground beef and pork, while Laura Zavan also adds dried ham and ground veal. There is also an atrocity I commit: I always season it with soy sauce. Some Italian readers might have a heart attack reading it, but in my opinion soy sauce incredibly improves the taste. Maybe if I add “my way”, I could be forgiven…

TIPS: Do not try shortcuts or changing the ingredients’ cooking order! This ragù has to be simmered for at least three hours. It can be made in two stages, during two days.

Remember how many cloves you put. You should take them out before serving (unfortunately putting them in a special bag or wrapping in gauze doesn’t work here: ragù is not liquid enough and cloves have to be scattered).

Preparation: 3 hours

Ingredients (serves four):

450 g – 500 g ground meat (half pork, half beef)

1 big carrot

2 long celery sprigs

1 big or two medium onions

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons oil

100 ml red wine

500 ml chicken, meat or vegetable stock

a big handful dried mushrooms (the more aromatic varieties you use, the better, but even dried button mushrooms will be a better option here than the fresh ones)

1 teaspoon thyme

1/2 teaspoon rosemary

2 bay leaves

5 cloves

1 can (400g canned tomatoes)

4 flat tablespoons tomato paste

salt, pepper

soy sauce

Chop the mushrooms and soak them in boiling water (500 ml).

In the meantime chop finely the onion, the carrot and the celery.

Heat the oil and the butter. Fry together the vegetables and the meat until the meat changes the colour.

Pour the wine, stir and wait until it evaporates (the meat will start sticking to the pan).

Season with salt, pepper, add the herbs, the cloves the stock and the mushrooms with their soaking water.

Give a stir, cover and let the dish simmer for one hour.

After one hour add the tomatoes and the tomato paste and let the ragù simmer for one more hour.

At the end adjust the taste and, if you dare, add 3-4 tablespoons soy sauce.

Before serving take out the bay leaves and cloves. (Biting into a clove is a very unpleasant experience).

43 Replies to “Ragù alla bolognese, My Way”

  1. I think its a good strategy to call it ‘my way’:) I’ve heard about people from one town/village claiming their ragu is more authentic then the neighbouring town/village, they can argue for hours on why white wine should be used instead of red etc. The discussion about soya would be quite short:) I guess in small amounts the soya flavour will not be noticable, maybe some Italian restaurants already use it secretly.

    1. Thank you, Mr. Three-Cookies. I remember the scary discussions I have had with two Mexicans about guacamole… Then I decided some very famous dishes’ recipes are safer to “swallow” when “My Way” is added. Soy sauce is a high risk item, I know! Unfortunately I’m one of those who think that almost everything tastes better with a dash of soy sauce 😉

  2. Oh, an Italian dish for us – how delightful Sissi! I love the warming comfort of ragu and I think cooking is all about putting a personal twist on things – I’m always open to seeing different interpretations and ingredients. It’s a great way to get new ideas and keep things fluid. Hee-hee, love the addition of soy sauce! In fact, since we now eat your soy sauce chicken on average once a week, I can’t look at a bottle of soy sauce without thinking of you! 🙂 Have a great weekend Sissi!

    1. Thank you, Kelly. I must say I like sometimes to cook something which requires long hours of simmering. Checking on a simmering dish from time to time, inhaling the improving aromas and tasting it is such a pleasure. You put me in such a good mood every time you say you cook and enjoy my recipes! I love the idea of being associated with soy sauce 😉 I would die without soy sauce (have I told you I take a small bottle of my favourite, low-sodium Japanese soy sauce when visiting my family? just in case I absolutely need it!). Have a lovely weekend too!

        1. Coffee frother? It’s even more crazy than my soy sauce! I understand you completely. There’s nothing worse than being forced to drink coffee one doesn’t like.

  3. Adding “my way” was the right thing to do… for example, I make it just with beef minced meat, but usually I add some sausages 😉
    You’re right, everybody has a ragù recipe, and everyone is convinced his it’s the right one 😛

  4. Sissi, this looks like such wonderful comfort food for the colder weather we’ve been having! I love that you are so knowledgeable when it comes to multicultural recipes and their origins. And you are right, making things “your way” is like putting the magic touch to the recipe, I am sure it’s yummy!

    1. Thank you so much, Jeno. We also start having quite cold days and nights and watching a simmering dish in a warm kitchen is a big pleasure (making such dishes in the Summer is torture!). I will tell you a secret: I look up things in books and internet and frankly learn a lot while writing a new post 😉

  5. I’ve really come around on ragus. I used to never like them as much as other dishes. This looks just wonderful, the cloves and mushrooms must really make it sing.

  6. Hehee I put soy sauce for my meat sauce too and it’s very close to what I and a lot of Japanese would prepare. See, again, I told you your previous life was Japanese. I can eat this everyday. I used to order meat sauce at every Yoshokuya (western style restaurant in Japan). I’m really crazy about it since I was kid… great post!

    1. Thank you so much, Nami! I feel much better: I’m not the only one who puts soy sauce everywhere. Wait, are you saying my favourite ragù alla bolognese is what the Japanese like??? I think I’ll have dreams about reincarnation tonight!

  7. Haha, I was just reading your conversation above and I totally agree – I’m going to start adding “My Way” to all sorts of things to avoid annoying any purists out there. Maybe to make it sound exotic I’ll call it “à la Charles”!

    I think differences and change are the “spice of life”, so to speak, so any “my way” recipe is always appreciated. It helps you learn about the person preparing it too! Besides – I actually don’t have any idea what a ragù is (I’ll need to look it up in a minute) so I can’t possibly pass judgment on whether it’s “proper” or not. I can definitely say that it looks rich, meaty and delicious though – definitely something that I’d love to have a few bowls of in this chilly weather! Seems like autumn has disappeared now here – settling in to the cold winter shortly I think!

    1. Thank you, Charles. Ragù alla bolognese means simply Bolognese sauce (you know the one you find in lasagna often), although ragù is not as smooth and liquid as a sauce really, it’s like a thick and slightly chunky sauce. You have made me laugh with “à la Charles”, but it would be a great idea! (what’s more your name is written exactly in the same way in French, so I would pronounce it in French!). We also have colder days now. 15°C last Saturday and now only 5°C 🙁

  8. That’s brilliant! Maybe we should all put a “My Way” onto all our recipes. You have such a great mix of recipes, Sissi. I love this as well as all the japanese ones. I also have a “my way” version of this but I don’t know if I would call it the same recipe since I’ve massacred it by adding some chopped eggplant.

    1. Thank you, Ping, for all the compliments! I am really flattered you like my recipes. I think your aubergine would be much much easier to “swallow” for an Italian than learning about my soy sauce 😉

  9. The eternal which Ragu recipe is right conumdrum. Like you I think it best to label it ‘my way’. I agree the most important element is taking time for the flavours to develop and in fact I think it is better the next day when the sweetness from the onions has had time to pervade through the whole dish. I think the soy sauce is an interesting idea I’ll give it a go. GG

    1. Thank you, GG. I totally agree about the next day’s flavours. Ragù gets better every time it’s warmed.

  10. Sissi, I love changing recipes, so most of mine in my blog are almost all ‘my way’;). To be honest, I even keep changing my own recipe whenever I cook the same dishes – sometimes I am a bit too adventurous in the kitchen I guess ;). I love Bolognese sauce and I love it ‘my way’ because the ones in the restaurants I have tried so far are always either too sour, too sweet, too watery, or just not really to my taste. I have never added thyme and rosemary to my Bolognese sauce though (I usually use basil, majoram or oregano), I should give it a try!! Thanks for the idea :)!

  11. What a unique twist on the Italian bolognese! I have never seen a recipe that uses cloves or dried ham, or soy sauce 😛 It looks delicious, and I’m very curious about adding some soy sauce. Think it would work in marinara sauce, too? My husband would love it!

    1. Thank you, Stefanie. Unfortunately, I have never cooked marinara sauce (actually I think I have never had it…). I try adding soy sauce to many savoury dishes and it seems to work well with many European dishes too, so you might test with marinara. Good luck!

    1. Thank you! You don’t think I cook for three hours without at least a glass of wine (or two) 😉 The good part is that I can have my wine on the couch and check on the food in the kitchen every 30 minutes…

  12. Sissi how much soya sauce do you add? between the ragu’s tomato content and the dried mushrooms can you even taste the soya flavour?

    1. Zsuzsa, I add about 4-5 tablespoons, but I use low-sodium soy sauce, so it would be 2 tablespoons of normal sauce. However I always stir and taste. The soy sauce flavour is impossible to recognise, but it gives a “kick” to the whole meal.

      1. I had a feeling that is what you were doing; it is such a clever thing to do. I admire your inventiveness. I keep chasing after the old taste experiences; meanwhile you are creating new ones. That is how cuisines develop. You are truly an international cook Sissi are you certain you are not a Canadian? You would love my adopted country’s diversity.

        1. Thank you, Zsuzsa for these compliments. I am so flattered 🙂 I also try to recreate the dishes I had many years ago, but sauce bolognese is not one of them. Haha! Nami tells me I was Japanese in my previous life and you tell me I’m Canadian! Maybe two lives before… Thank you once more for the kind words.

    1. Thank you, Zsuzsa. I start liking long simmering when cold days come and I don’t suffer in the hot kitchen 😉

        1. Zsuzsa, drink to my health! A glass of wine is obligatory for long-simmered dishes. The cook is in a better mood and everything tastes better 🙂

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